Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018: The key takeaways

Posted on 28 Jun 2018 by Maddy White

“How can we make tangible improvements through innovation?” Chair for the day, Rajkaran Singh Kharbanda, asked the packed room. This began the 2018 Manufacturing Innovation Summit - a one-day event built around a series of expert-led roundtable discussions.

Innovation has become essential for manufacturers to make sustainable growth and move the industry forward.
Innovation has become essential for manufacturers to make sustainable growth and move the industry forward – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Innovation has always been essential for manufacturers to achieve sustainable growth and drive their business forward.

However, the pace of change today is greater than ever and no longer is innovation solely focused on products, it also needs to be applied to process, production, digitalisation, the workforce, and increasingly every part of an organisation.

This is quite the challenge.

Through keynotes, panel debates and roundtable discussions, manufacturers both big and small from across the UK explored the topic of innovation; how exactly can they utilise the resources available to them – from data analytics and cultural change, to cloud and IoT – to gain competitive advantage?

Delegates were able to visit five out of a possible 10 roundtables throughout the day and this formed a central part of the ensuing conversations. The proven format enabled attendees to learn more about their particular areas of interest in innovation and ask the questions that mattered most to their business.

After the first keynote from Dell EMC’s Nigel Moulton, examining the ‘six rules of digital manufacturing’ and a panel debate on ‘kickstarting innovation’, we moved to our discussion tables.

Cloud and collaboration

The first roundtable I visited was hosted by Daisy Group and Amtek Plastics, and explored the concept of connectivity and communications. In today’s hyper-connected world, working collaboratively is essential. The discussion drilled down into the key milestones for a business to maximise the upside from connecting people and processes.

The initial conversation surrounded the cloud, which quickly brought about questions asking how it actually works and what benefits it can bring to a business?

How exactly does the cloud work and what can it bring to a business?

An engineering manager at a major consumer goods company noted the “massive problems” that data brings to an organisation, particularly in large volumes. “It could be worth billions to us if we could crack it,” he noted, “but there is so much, almost too much, to work with.”

Another delegate added: “Everyone apparently has ‘the best solution’; I do not like the phrase ‘Industry 4.0’.” 

This seemed to be because the company has worked in very traditional way for many years, and he didn’t see the wave of ‘Industry 4.0’ technologies having a significant affect on his organisation.

The conversation moved on to the topic of cybersecurity in communications and the need for standardised platforms across companies. None of the delegates seemed to be completely sure of the innovation capabilities cloud could bring to their organisations, highlighting a need for greater education, a need that solution and technology providers could help address.

After two more keynotes, the first about monetising innovation, which asked the question: ‘What is your customer willing to pay for?’, and the second tackling the global trend of hyper-personalisation, we moved on to our next roundtable session.

Competitive advantage through smarter technology

My next roundtable focused on how to gain competitive advantage through smarter technologies. We spoke about innovation without application and how often data is not being used in a ‘smart’ manner.

Gordon Macrae, Gripple’s special projects director and one of the table’s hosts, asked; How can we save costs?  “Sweat the assets,” a global process engineer at an international consumer goods company replied. But how to do that?

92% Of manufacturers believe Smart Factory technologies will enable them to increase productivity levels per headcount

Speed. This then become a hot topic of conversation, as well as how to save money through data and smart connections.

Troy Barratt, managing director at Contracts Engineering Limited, said: “For us, we want to manage costs using smarter technologies. We manufacture metal and it is about how to do that really fast. That relies on speeding up the process, tracking data, being able to react and also investing in better machinery.”

Gordon rounded off the discussion with the suggestion that manufacturers don’t not necessarily want to be driven by data, but rather use data as one tool in a broader tool kit.

Innovation culture

My next discussion table was hosted by Atlas Copco and Configure One, and focused on how to create a true ‘innovation culture’. 

Customer engagement was the first topic and explored how customers have become more involved and at an earlier stage of the purchasing cycle than ever before, and how manufacturers should consider a variety of options in order to reach more customers.

The talk progressed onto ‘failure’, a topic which had everyone inputting. In particular, the need for failure to help drive innovation was highlighted.

A business integration manager at an international aerospace manufacturer noted: “We really struggle with [failure]. The minute I fail at something, it is like you have to produce another one and for the same date.”

She added: “We have an employee involvement team, a ‘Dragon’s Den’ if you like, where employees are welcome to present their ideas to operators.”

How could innovation change the working culture environment? One manufacturer said: “If you don’t innovate you are dead! You can get great ideas from start-ups, universities, research organisations, everywhere really, you just need to connect the dots.”

Delegates all concluded that innovation is now expected and failure should be too, but without the backing of the company – particularly leadership, innovation just won’t happen.

Phil Potter, senior export finance manager for UKEF speaking at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
Phil Potter, senior export finance manager for UKEF speaking at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

A keynote was delivered by Phil Potter from UKEF who asked the question, “have you ever limited your innovation because of funds?” As he spoke about supporting UK exporters to fulfill their contracts and get paid.

That was followed by the second panel debate, which discussed the concept of ‘sustainable innovation’.

Export opportunities and challenges for innovative UK manufacturers

My final roundtable was led by Kevin Ledwith, export finance manager for UKEF and discussed export options for British manufacturers.

Kevin spoke about how to produce a successful export strategy and how to obtain suitable customers and distributors in order to have an international business.

Brexit invariably made its way into the conversation and an engineering apprentice voiced their concerns, “From our perspective, we are interested in exporting, 80% of our services are exported overseas, and of these, half are for Europe and the other half the US.”

Head of operations at an international wine business noted that their company is looking into new markets, saying: “The Asian wine market has boomed.”

Interestingly, one strategy mentioned included finding a gap in the market first and then altering products to fit them accordingly; it seemed obtaining trade from global markets was a key solution to improving business strategies.

Around the table, it was agreed that there is a best case and a worst case Brexit scenario, and that most of the companies present were strongly open to accessing and utilising new international markets.


The day concluded with a keynote delivered by Andy Baker from Hitachi Consulting, and explored smart manufacturing via predictive analytics.